Ball Control Is Top Priority

The Patriots started the free agency period chasing DT John Thornton. There is little mystery concerning Thornton's specialty, stopping the run. Although New England failed to land Thornton, they did sign former Charger Rodney Harrison. The team that wrote the book on stopping the high-flying St. Louis Rams is getting back to basics.

In essence, the New England Patriots are trading the speed and coverage skills of Tebucky Jones (whom the Pats had little intention of re-signing anyway) for the run-stuffing ability of Rodney Harrison. While the Pats had a host of defensive problems in 2002, stopping the run was the biggest.

Are the Patriots on the cutting edge once again?

After watching Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl against the formidable aerial assault of the Oakland Raiders and noticing the previous year how New England silenced the Greatest Show on Turf, the entire NFL seems bent on finding big defensive backs that are speedy and can cover well. The Patriots appear to be heading in the opposite direction.

Ever the innovator, Bill Belichick could be taking into account the opposition swinging too far toward defending the pass. By returning to the tried and true method of ball control, the Patriots may find a way to get one step ahead of the pack. Of course, New England will also have to find a running game to complete the picture.

Still, the Pats will need to stop the pass as well. The signing of LB Rosevelt Colvin will help on that count. Colvin could prove to be the best signing of the entire free agency pool for 2003. Colvin can play the run, but his specialty is rushing the passer and he also seems to have a knack for turnovers. Landing Colvin freed up the Pats to chase Harrison and shore up the run defense.

Even with the big defensive moves in free agency, New England will still look for youth and speed in the draft. Don't be surprised to see Belichick pick a defensive player in the first round. However, the offensive side of the equation will need to be addressed at some point. There are a number of interesting running backs with a second round grade and if the Patriots can get a pick for Jones, they may even look higher for a ground game.

The last week has been a strong one for New England and its off-season agenda. They have a bit more flexibility in the draft and they may now have a strength that could prove a weakness for most other teams in the NFL. While the rest of the league is attempting to move from the Harrisons to the Joneses, the Patriots are swimming upstream.

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